Skechers the athletic and leisure shoe company has recently unveiled a new line of shoes called BOBS, a TOMS canvas shoes look alike. Not only do BOBS shoes look a lot like TOMS with the little tag and all, but Skecher's is also donating a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair of shoes bought.
"innovative ideas for business philanthropy" - with the intent of inspiring other businesses to create giving programs that can create social benefit. Every now and then something comes across my desk that leaves me scratching my head and wondering : "what WERE they thinking?!!!"
I can't presume to know what Skechers was thinking about, but just looking at this program gives one a lot to learn about how not do business philanthropy.
But first, to be fair, it's important to say a few good things about the Skechers program. They are donating shoes to a first rate non profit, Shoes4Soles, that delivers donated used shoes to impoverished areas all over the world. I wrote about Soles4Souls after the Haiti disaster here. Also on the Skechers webpage they have a link to their corporate philanthropy program, the SKECHERS USA, “Nothing Compares to Family” promotion, that ran through 2009, and starred popular celebrity families and benefits children's charities with ads breaking in celebrity weekly and fashion magazines.
There is no mention of BOBS shoes on this page - which gives me me a perfect opportunity to launch into the first of several "What Not To Do's." in business philanthropy.
Don't tell your customers much about the charity or the cause you are partnering with.
When buying BOBS, there is little opportunity for a customer to learn anything about Soles4Souls and what they do. The transparency of the business giving is just as important as the transparency of the non-profit. Soles4Souls is a fabulous organization that provides shoes to disaster victims in impoverished countries and Skechers has lost an amazing opportunity to promote their mission better. To add injury to injustice when I last checked BOBS site, the link to Soles4Souls page no longer exists.
Have no transparency.
Skechers has a brief description of their donations to Soles4Soles on their website, but there is nothing to describe how they are partnering with them and what kind of shoes they are donating, unlike TOMS which has pages of information about their philanthropy.
Don't bother to assess your business' core values.
Toms shoes started with a vision of being a philanthropic business caring about the plight of impoverished children in the world. Hard to know how Skechers came up with the idea that they cared about barefoot children. If that were part of their corporate values they might have unveiled a broader program donating other kinds of more useful shoes, like their sneakers.
Don't do something that makes sense as good business strategy.
Coming out with a giving program that is related to you core business is a good idea, but even then, distinguishing yourself from the competition continues to be important for business success.In these economic times, no business can afford to pay little attention to using the best strategy for their business whether it ties into their philanthropy or not.
Don't tell a good story
Do make everyone question whether it is a marketing ploy.
Skechers may have had truly philanthropic intentions, but the perception of this program is that it appears to be a quick marketing scheme. In the world of business, perception often becomes reality.
There are many lessons to learn from many companies and their giving programs. Often there are mistakes in the planning and execution both for businesses and non-profits.Skechers may be singled out here, but in truth corporate philanthropy, CSR, and community involvement is still quite young as a movement. Hopefully more and more businesses will learn from other successes and failures alike, and come on board to support their communities and good causes through philanthropy.